Time for a budget boost for the ABC

Michael Henry – ABC Friends Victoria

Michael Henry
President ABC Friends Victoria

We have been lamenting the decade of budget cuts to the ABC for so long it has almost become a mantra. The Albanese government started to redress the trend when they reinstated indexation, but it is at a level which means the ABC still has to make cuts each year to meet budget. And now the tech giants are declining to pay for their use of ABC content – a further cut to ABC funding.

If you want to read a history of the cuts over time, there is a piece by Peter Monie below. And if you want to know what impact they have had, the piece for the ABC Alumni by Michael Ward is HERE. First release, non-news and current affairs screen content on the ABC’s main TV channel has dropped by 40% in ten years, and on all ABC platforms by around 20%.

Enough is enough. This coming federal budget in May has to begin to redress the slide, or the ABC simply can’t fulfill its Charter. ABC Friends will run a campaign, with ABC Alumni, to boost the ABC budget. You can help.

The campaign will be based on the budget submission from ABC Friends, which indicates where the extra funds are needed. The ABCF budget submission is HERE. We are asking our members and supporters to take this issue up with their local federal MP, by phone, email or visit, and ask them to take the message to Canberra.

We are also asking you to drop a note to the Federal Treasurer and Finance Minister and let them know how urgent it is for the ABC to receive a budget boost. The addresses for them are shown below.

We need to run this campaign now, before the discretionary parts of the budget are allocated elsewhere. Without extra funds the ABC will have to continue to look for savings, and the quality of local productions and programs will continue to suffer.

Hon Dr Jim Chalmers MP
PO Box 6022
House of Representatives
Parliament Hou0se
Canberra ACT 2600
Senator Katy Gallagher
PO Box 6100
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

A Decade of Damage

by Peter Monie

We need to learn from recent ABC budget history so it doesn’t happen again.

Since the May 2014 Federal Budget (Abbott/Hockey) the ABC has undergone a series of Budget cuts which have seriously impacted the National Broadcaster’s capacity to deliver services to Australians as required by its Charter.

As background and important information, it should be noted that federal government funding for the ABC was approximately 0.6% of total federal government expenditure in 1980, while now it is around 0.2%.

Since the Albanese Government came into Government in May 2022, very little has been done to redress the results of serial budget cuts while the Coalition was in Government from 2013 to 2022.
Since 2013 the ABC Budget has been cut by over 14% and it shows. The following brief history is the context.

Budget Cuts to the ABC – 2014 – 2022

2014 Budget

On 13 March 2014, the Guardian reported as follows:

“Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has questioned the future of the international broadcaster, Australia Network, saying the money it costs to run could be better directed elsewhere. “It’s not about the ABC promoting its news programs… into the region, it’s actually meant to be fulfilling the Australian Government’s foreign policy objectives.” she said.

The ABC runs Australia Network under a $223 million, 10-year contract for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). Speaking at a public forum at Chatham House in London, Ms Bishop said her Department is looking at alternatives to the broadcaster for promoting Australia in the Asia Pacific region.

“My question is whether under a soft power diplomacy contract… is that the best use of taxpayers money to project a positive image into the region?” she said.

The Minister said the conflicts between ABC news programming and the network’s priorities had been evident in the presentation of asylum seeker stories and the publication of leaks from whistleblower Edward Snowdon.

On 13 May 2014, Katherine Viner of The Guardian Newspaper reported, in Budget news, that:

“The government is to pay $10.6m to the ABC for breaking its contract to produce the Australia Network. The contract’s cancellation will save the government $196.8m.

“The Australia Network, which is funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, is a television channel designed to promote a positive view of Australia in the Asia-Pacific. The closure of the network had all but been confirmed last week.”

Since May 2014, Australia has had to rely on Radio Australia for internationally-oriented programs directed towards the Pacific and to Asia. As a result, our ability to engage in “soft diplomacy” in our region has been greatly diminished.


By 2018 the ABC’s base funding had been cut by $340 million under the Coalition government, resulting in serious job losses, the closure of ABC bureaus in regional Australia and overseas, and reduced production of local content. In real terms, after adjustments for inflation, the ABC now received about 30% less from the Federal Budget than it did in the 1980s.

Then Communications Minister, Mitch Fifield, supposedly the custodian of the ABC, had made six complaints that year, including about issues as trivial as reporting on how the date was chosen for the “super Saturday” of by-elections in July. Coalition backbenchers and crossbenchers had also regularly made complaints about the ABC’s political coverage, as had former Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

Private broadcasters and publishers were seeking to attack the ABC through a “competitive neutrality” inquiry. The commercial free-to-air and subscription TV and radio networks have long seen the ABC as their competitor, but in recent years, they have been joined by the major publishers who claim that the expansion of the ABC online is a threat to their business models. With the assistance of One Nation, they have fought back by successfully lobbying the federal government to order a competitive neutrality inquiry into the ABC. The inquiry found in favour of the National Broadcaster.

By now it was Liberal Party policy to sell off the ABC. In June 2018 the Liberal Party federal council voted 4:1 to privatise the ABC. The Institute of Public Affairs, has long campaigned for the privatisation of the ABC. Although Liberal politicians, including former Prime Minister Scott Morrison, have sought to distance themselves from the party’s policy, there was only tokenistic opposition to the motion to privatise the ABC expressed by the Minister for Communications Mitch Fifield at the June meeting. In previous years, as a backbencher, Senator Fifield had openly advocated for the ABC to be privatised.

Oct 2020

In October 2020 the Morrison government extended the ABC’s funding freeze beyond 2022.

According to the budget papers at the time, the ABC’s operating budget dropped from $880.6m in 2021-2022 to $866.5m in 2022-2023, which represented a 3.7% decrease in real terms from 2020-2021 to 2023-2024.

The ABC had already made significant cuts to staff and services after an $84m indexation freeze was announced in the 2018 budget.

The government partially restored the indexation in the ABC’s next triennium funding cycle in 2022, but it fell short of the figure needed to maintain the ABC’s budget with more staffing cuts expected.
The ABC said, at the time, that the budget allocation did not include funding for the enhanced newsgathering program, provided since 2013 and renewed twice by the government.

“The initiative has given the ABC the ability to deliver more tailored and local news to communities and to bring news from across the country to a national audience,” the ABC said.

“It has enabled job creation at a time when commercial news media are rationalising their services and contracting or amalgamating regional news resources. Overall, it’s estimated there are currently 69 positions supported by the funding.”

Budget 2020

The ABC is set to face ongoing cuts to its budget in real terms, with funding for broadcasting – which covers the national broadcaster and SBS – subject to a 0.7 per cent decrease in real terms from 2019-20 to 2020-21, and a 3.7 per cent decrease in real terms from 2020-21 to 2023-24, reported The Australian’s Rachel Baxendale.

The decrease reflected the Morrison government’s decision in the 2018 budget to freeze ABC funding at 2018-19 levels until at least 2021-22, saving $84m. The broadcaster’s average staffing level fell from 4069 people in 2019-20 to 4030 in 2020-21, necessitating a recent round of redundancies.

The freeze had been partially offset by a $33m package for the screen sector which was announced earlier that year, as well as the $44m “Guaranteeing Australia’s Public Broadcasters” package announced in the previous year’s budget.

2022 onwards

Since coming into Government after the election on 21 May 2022, the Albanese Government has done very little to restore the ABC’s funding which was so severely cut during the Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison years.

Various calculations have been made of the extent of cuts to the ABC’s Budget sine 2014. After close scrutiny of work done by various experts, we have concluded that the real numbers re cuts are the figures by Michael Ward of Sydney University who had the cuts at over $700 million from FY2014/15 – FY2021/22.

ABC Friends is pleased that The ABC’s budget cycle has been increased from 3 – 5 years, thus providing greater scope for budget planning by the national broadcaster.
But ABC Friends is determined to pursue the issue of substantial Budget restoration in the lead-up to the next Federal Budget – in May 2024. We submitted an argument to that effect when budget submissions were called for – see our submission HERE.

We are now commencing a campaign in support of this budget submission, asking our members and supporters to contact their local federal MPs and “help” them to lobby for a decent ABC additional allocation in the 2024 Budget.

We are joined in this campaign by the ABC Alumni and the ABC friends and supporters across the country.